The only common feature of the diplomatic contacts of Türkiye in the last few days, especially after the new bureaucracy was formed with the critical elections, is the focus on the fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK).
With Hakan Fidan, to whom President Tayyip Erdoğan entrusted the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) for thirteen years, taking the helm of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the PKK issue is now at the forefront of the foreign policy agenda.
Having emerged victorious from the elections, Erdoğan wants to focus his strengthened domestic position on getting results in foreign policy – including the fight against the PKK – amid being forced to concede in his insistence on his monetary policy and let the Central Bank to increase the policy rates after almost two years of low-interest rates.
This can be inferred from events in the last few days.
Türkiye strikes, PKK blames Russia
The Astana Group between Türkiye, Russia and Iran convened in Astana on June 20-21 for its 20th meeting. Türkiye was represented by a delegation headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Burak Akçapar.
The most striking part of the final declaration was the phrase: “so-called illegitimate ‘self-rule’ initiatives being implemented under the pretext of fighting terrorism are unacceptable.”
By “self-rule” was meant the de facto “Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria” established in north-eastern Syria under the name of “Rojava” around the body of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Syrian branch of the outlawed PKK, and the US support for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), built around the body of the People’s Defence Units (YPG), as the armed force of this administration under the pretext of fighting Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
At the beginning of the Astana meeting on June 20, a Turkish drone struck a vehicle between Qamishli and Tirbespiye in northern Syria. The attack killed Yusra Derviş, the co-chair of the Qamishli Canton of the “autonomous administration”, and their deputy Leman Shiveş. It is noteworthy that Yeni Özgür Politika, a PKK-oriented newspaper published in Germany, blamed Russia for the attack.
Fidan, Barzani, Güler
Özgür Politika drew attention to the fact that the attack took place on the very day that Türkiye received the support it wanted from Russia (and Iran, although they did not mention it in their reaction) “against Rojava”.
We don’t yet know how much this fits into the bigger picture, but Shiveş, who was killed in the attack, had previously been captured and imprisoned by the forces of the Iraqi Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) under the Barzani family, and had been involved in the PKK’s activities in Russia for 7 years.
Also on June 20, Masrour Barzani, Prime Minister of the KDP-led Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), visited President Erdoğan in Ankara. Foreign Minister Fidan also attended the meeting. Fidan and Masrour Barzani had something in common.
When Fidan was the head of MIT, Masrour Barzani was the head of KRG intelligence; they were in contact.
On June 21, Yaşar Güler, the Turkish Minister of National Defense, told reporters at the first AKP Parliamentary Group meeting he attended that “there will be positive results”, referring to the Erdoğan-Barzani meeting.
As a result of the cooperation of Barzani forces with Türkiye, the PKK control of Sinjar, the strategic bridge between Qandil and Rojava in recent years, had a hit.
Blinken, NATO, PKK, Sweden
As Defense Minister Güler was saying this in Ankara, Fidan was in London for the Ukraine Recovery Conference. In his first high-profile meeting as Foreign Minister, he met with his counterparts, including Germany, France and Italy, as well as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Blinken’s main agenda was clear: Türkiye’s approval of Sweden’s NATO membership. Blinken’s short speech did not include the sale of F-16s or the cessation of support for PKK-linked organizations in Syria, which Ankara wanted to hear.
Fidan, on the other hand, emphasized an imperative:
– “We may not agree on everything, but our longstanding alliance in NATO and elsewhere compels us to continue to work together.”
Regarding Sweden’s membership, it is clear that Ankara expects concrete steps on both the PKK and FETO. The US wants the approval before the NATO summit in Vilinius on July 11-12. At the June 14 Sweden-Finland-NATO meeting in Ankara, Türkiye reminded that it was “action-oriented, not time-oriented.”
US in Syria forever?
However, around the time of the Fidan-Blinken meeting, a voice came out of Washington indicating that things were not so easy.
“It’s important to make sure that Türkiye understands what we’re doing in Syria and why we’re doing it and who we’re working with and why we’re working with them,” White House spokesman John Kirby said on June 20. In other words, the White House spokesman was essentially telling that they are “working with” the PKK “against ISIS” and expecting Türkiye, a NATO ally, to “understand” this.
During the election campaign period, Erdoğan announced that Turkish forces had found and killed the new leader of ISIS in a region of Syria close to the Turkish border. But perhaps because Ankara did not make a big deal out of it, it did not resonate with the international community.
It is clear that it will be difficult for the US to get Türkiye’s approval of Sweden’s NATO membership – against Russia – unless Türkiye receives some benefit in return.
And then there is this: It is clear that the US will not stay in Syria forever, as it did in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. It is also clear that Türkiye wants to remove the PKK as the main factor in solving the Kurdish problem, rather than compromise with it. When you put these two propositions together, we can expect a new mobilization on the PKK.
Fidan is likely to be at the center of this movement.